If you’re like me, you find the current refugee crisis to be *more than a little* overwhelming.
The tragic stories. The heart-breaking photos. The emotionally charged opinions about what should or should not be done.
The problem is so much bigger than any one person. Bigger even than any one country.
Frankly, to many, the issues around refugees and immigration just seem too big. Too big to understand, too big to dent, and for sure too big to solve.
For that reason, we may even be tempted to push the issues surrounding refugees and immigrants out of our minds. To try to go about our daily lives best we can without thinking about them.
Though, if we’re honest, that’s usually difficult to do completely.
Whether we like it or not, world-scale issues have a way of trickling down to our communities. National narratives become part of local dinner conversations, social cliques, and playground fights. Federal policy shapes state and city practices. News, rumors, biases, and fears are nursed along, passed from one town to the next, one generation to the next.
And ignoring social issues surrounding refugees and immigrants, of course, doesn’t prevent them from touching us. Nor does it make them go away.
The reality is, in this post-9/11 world, international relations will likely be more complex for our children than us.
Which is why when it comes to controversy around refugees and immigration, it is all the more CRITICAL that we resist helplessness.
That we refuse to adopt the belief that there’s NOTHING we can do, NO WAY to contribute good.
And that at the very least, we resolve to educate ourselves about the issues and familiarize ourselves with possible solutions.
In times of worry or controversy, staying informed is more important than ever. After all, in these moments, we often feel confused. Our values may seem to be in conflict. Many of us want to keep our families and neighborhoods safe, for example. That’s important to us. And yet, sure, many would like to offer a compassionate response to immigrants and refugees if we could. That’s important to many too.
But for some of us, we can’t figure out which values to apply or how to best apply them because information and tools are difficult to come by.
For many, there are very few safe places to talk or learn about issues surrounding refugees or immigrants.
Especially in small cities and rural towns, people tell me they barely want to broach the topics with their close friends and family, let alone the acquaintances who share their communities. We’re well aware that even a well-meaning statement or question can quickly trigger a heated conversation. And that when people feel their values are being threatened, their beliefs are being challenged, or those they love are being put at risk, emotions often run high.
Like crazy high.
It may only take witnessing one good Facebook bloodbath to convince us to stay out of controversial issues.
That’s part of the reason why I’ll be making relationships with immigrants and refugees an ongoing thread on this website.
I think conversation, in the right context, can help. In fact, I think it can help a lot.
I believe there are facts about refugees and immigrants that aren’t commonly known. That are worth searching out. That might even allay many of people’s fears.
I believe there are choices that can help us understand the stranger rather than fear them. That there are practices that can promote solidarity instead of separateness, compassion instead of suspicion.
And I believe the skill of peace-making would not only be helpful to us, but could be one of the most important gifts we could pass on to our children.
As an educator who has worked with high risk teenage populations, I have come to believe that peacemaking is a skill our children desperately need…maybe as much or more as they need math or science or history.
It can only benefit them to know how to find a balanced point of view, how to advocate for themselves and others, how to apply their convictions even in tense circumstances.
And the more children who grow up knowing how to peaceably interact with those unlike themselves, the more it will also benefit our country and world.
All of this, in addition to my Christian faith, leads me to conclude that the greatest risk is is not teaching peace well.
I am trying to learn and work toward peace in my corner of the world, where these issues are perhaps particularly relevant. Michigan, my home state, has the highest percentage of residents with roots in the Middle East and the second highest Syrian Refugee population in the United States.
Learning about this has been and in many ways still is, admittedly, an unfamiliar journey. I was born here in the United State. And born a privileged, middle class white girl at that. But as my friends and I work toward peacekeeping locally, through our work with the Mid Michigan Chapter of Euphrates, I’ll be expressing those ideas here virtually in the “Refugees Category” too.
All are welcome to the conversation. I hope people will expand on my learnings, counter any weaknesses in my thinking, and help me see my blind spots as I think about how to care for my foreign-born neighbors. And I hope your own perception of what it means to love your neighbor and “your other” will be expanded too.
Photo Credit: Global Panorama